For many years I served with an organization called Awe Star Missions. Every year, this ministry hosts a conference called iGO. Youth pastors, students, parents and missionaries from all around the world collide in one place for a time to focus on Christ’s commandment to go and make disciples of all nations. At this conference, God has spoken to many believers to engage with His plan of living out the lifestyle of a missionary. These conferences have been some of the highlights of my 46 years of ministry.
In the last couple of years, though, we have seen a shift in youth ministry. As our staff calls churches and talks to the person in charge of the youth, we keep hearing the same thing. “Well, our students are just not into missions.” “Missions is just not their thing.” And the quotes go on and on.
Words like these grieve my heart. I believe there are four reasons for this generation’s lack of response to missions:
- We have lost the funnel from which we moved children’s hearts and lives into an adult understanding of missions. I grew up as a Royal Ambassador (RA); my wife was in the Girls’ Auxiliary, or “GAs.” These organizations instilled in us early on that missions was the heart of Christ. There, we learned about the mission work of the past and what God was doing today. But before we were even old enough to be in RAs or GAs, we were both in a program called Sunbeams. Sunbeams centered around three Scripture verses: “Jesus said,‘I am the light of the world (John 8: 12b);” “Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world’” (Matt. 5:14a). “Therefore, let your light so shine” (Matt. 5: 16a, KJV). As far back as I can remember, I knew I was to be a reflector of His light.
- The Bible no longer has supremacy in our churches. I remember once as a child, someone told me I went to a “Bible Thumper” church. All we did was study, discuss, memorize and evaluate our lives in light of the Scriptures. Today, we are no longer called “Bible Thumpers.” Instead, we are known as people of the program. As I travel from church to church across this country, I am often asked, “What program is successful today?” Churches are looking for a program, but there is only one program, and that is the Word of God. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). Where the Bible is truly taught and lies at the center of church activities, missions will be front and center.
- We only teach a partial Jesus. If you embrace a Jesus who doesn’t call you to walk out His life, you need to see if you are following the right Jesus. Yes, Jesus is about love and the little children, but He has also called us to deny ourselves and go. I worked in the nursery once; during that hour, I prayed for Jesus to come back. But I got good at one thing. Anytime a baby started to cry, I stuck a pacifier into their mouth. It was a temporary fix. This culture wants a pacifier Jesus; they only need Him when they start crying. But if you truly understand the Scriptures, you will understand who Jesus really is: Lord of lords, King of kings. He doesn’t want to be your pacifier; he wants to consume every area of your life.
- We no longer introduce our church to real missionaries. We have bulletin inserts; we have a videos on the screen, but touching and talking with a real missionary doesn’t happen much anymore, and it is life-changing. Again, growing up, we had many missionaries come to our church. This is where I heard about their challenges and how God’s mercy and grace met them as they walked out the Christ-life in a foreign country. I heard their plea to send more workers, for the fields were white unto harvest but the workers were few. It was these people who walked away from families and comfort to invest in others, so they might hear of the claims of Christ. They were and still are my heroes who brought to life everything I was learning about the Scriptures. These missionaries knew something I didn’t yet know: the joy of obedience.
The phrase I use now to sum up my life and why I do what I do is this: Two-thirds of “God” is “go.” And that trumps “not interested” every time.
If you are interested in iGO, call 1-800-AWE-STAR or go to www.awestar.org .